Senate health and education chair defends decisions to keep children home from school during pandemic

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Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said she is “proud” of how Democrats handled getting school children back in classrooms as they dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, and defended school closures even while acknowledging the impact that policy has had on children.

Discussing the issue on CNN’s “State of the Union,” host Dana Bash asked Murray if it was a “mistake” to keep students home for so long. The question came in light of a Department of Education report on the nation’s plummeting test scores released Thursday, which showed dramatic losses across the board for students in the U.S.

“Dana, this was a decision of local school officials and our scientific experts trying to get their hands around a pandemic that was killing millions of Americans to protect their children, to protect their staff, to protect their communities. I am proud that when Democrats got control a year and a half ago, Democrats voted for the American Rescue Plan that helped our kids get back into school safely – making sure that our schools had testing, and supplies, and ventilation, and the ability to make sure their kids could be safe at school. And today, virtually every child is back in school. That is what I focused on, making sure that we were providing the resources to our schools so they could reopen safely, and that’s what we have today.”

Murray then recognized that “we have an issue about kids being out of school,” stating that she is “very focused… on making sure that we help get our kids back to where they need to be.”

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Bash pressed the issue, trying to move away from discussing the circumstances of the pandemic at the time.

“In retrospect, no second thoughts?” Bash asked. “Given the numbers that you’re seeing, the decline that we just talked about, do you still feel comfortable with the way that school districts even in your home state handled the pandemic?”

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in her office on Capitol Hill in Washington. 
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

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Those numbers included reading scores in 2022 for 9-year-olds going down by 5 points and math scores going down 7 compared to 2020. The Department of Education said this was “the largest average score decline in reading since 1990, and the first ever score decline in mathematics.”

Still, Murray’s answer remained the same.

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“I think we were under unprecedented times at that point, where people really were struggling to figure out what was the best thing to do, to make sure that their kids, their families, their children were safe,” she said.

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